Archives for August 2013

Photo of the Day: Hingis will play on despite losses

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Matt Cronin’s US Open Picks- Day 7

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Robson Destined for Greatness


Now that Murray is at the top of his game, debate swirls around Robson’s future.

Britain has a tendency to overhype their young players to the point where they can seemingly do no right in their bid to live up to expectations – only Andy Murray has bucked that trend in the last two decades.

However, in Laura Robson, could the expectant Brits have another Grand Slam champion in the making? Or is she destined to be the next Annabel Croft, more well known for her television exploits than tennis ones?

The debate about Robson has been raging on the forums since she won the Wimbledon girls’ event at the age of 14, the British media describing her as the “new darling of British tennis” following her success at SW19. Since then there has been plenty of pressure placed upon Robson’s shoulders to fly the Union Jack flag for Britain in the women’s game.

After an understandably slow start given her age, Robson showed glimpses of what she is capable of in the latter part of 2012, picking up a silver medal in the mixed doubles at the Olympic Games with partner, Murray. That was followed by a run to the fourth round of the US Open, which included victories over Kim Clijsters and perennial favourite in the Betfair odds, Li Na.

Since then, Robson has made steady progress up the rankings ladder and returns to Flushing Meadows this year as a seed for the first time in her career. While a wrist injury sustained in Toronto hindered her build-up to the US Open, Robson was able to blow away the cobwebs with a straight sets win over Lourdes Dominguez Lino in the first round.

The teenager’s powerful groundstrokes and ability to cover the court have made her a force to be reckoned with on Tour. Robson looks to have all the makings of a Grand Slam winner, especially considering she will be hitting her peak after Serena Williams has called it a day.

However, while the Brit has the potential to be a superstar, she still needs time and fans and Betfair pundits will have to be patient with her. While a major title isn’t just around the corner, the signs all point to her having “Grand Slam winner” under her name when she does make the move to TV punditry, rather than the more common “former British number 1”.

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Listen to Matt Cronin on US radio every day

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Picture of the Day, US Open edition

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Shavapova out of US Open, shoulder trouble again

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Bartoli’s stunning retirement, Sharapova and Connors split, & Federer’s racquet


What will happen to Bartoli when the attention dies down?


It has been an entirely unpredictable week in tennis, beginning with Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli’s shocking announcement of her retirement on Tuesday, Roger Federer’s decision around the same time that he ditched his prototype racquet and gone back to his old Wilson Pro Staff, the USTA’s grand announcement of a roof to be built over Arthur Ashe Stadium, and on Friday the revelation that Maria Sharapova had parted with coach Jimmy Connors after just one month (and only one match).

Bartoli said that she knew she was done after her opening round loss to Simona Halep in Cincinnati. She has put her body through the ringer over the past 13 years and just could not face another day of having to spend a half hour just getting herself to walk regularly. Here is a news story I wrote on her comments to a small group on us on Thursday morning.

The Frenchwoman says that there will be no comeback as she approaches everything in her life full on, and she isn’t washy washy about her decision. I, like many others who have covered her over the years, was very surprised at the decision, because I spoke to her on three occasions during the Rogers Cup in Toronto and she gave absolutely no indication that she was ready to retire. She did admit that she was exhausted, but she spoke with bright eyes and enthusiasm about an assault on this year’s US Open and given that she has been a very good hard court player, it was not out of the realm of possibility that she could make a charge to the semis, or even the final, or even win it if her draw broke right again.

But that doesn’t matter as she had lost her motivation and will to compete. She is only 28 years old, and she joins an all-star list of women players who has retired prematurely over the past decade: Anna Kournikova, Martina Hingis, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva. All of them had different reasons for doing so. Most cited injuries, other mentioned a bit of burnout. Three came back while the three Russians have stayed on the sidelines.

As Bartoli said, every player path is different and hers has been radically so. What will likely be forgotten post her wonderful Wimbledon run is what chaotic year she has leading up to London: her split with her father, hiring and firing coaches, reuniting with him, splitting again. She had some very tough moments this season, but those all seemingly were washed away when she was finally able to raise the big trophy at her cherished locale. But maybe she could not imagine continuing on the tennis treadmill without her dad around anymore? Do not dismiss that possibility as she had some very difficult and at times lonely periods without him this season.

But what did Bartoli see the future hold for her after that? She isn’t sure other than attending tournaments to watch her new set of friends (other French players on the Fed Cup team), going to some art galleries and maybe taking up ballet again.  She has been the center of attention since she won Wimbledon. Even today she was exchanging tweets with other players. She will head to New York for the US Open and is sure to get some more attention there.

But what then after the lights go down, people stop calling her as much, the thrill of competition is no longer there and she has no tangible goals? That’s when the full weight of her decision will fall on her. The tennis world is hoping she makes an easy transition, but the thought here is that it won’t be anything close to that.


The Sharapova-Connors split

No one who has spent a fair amount of time around Sharapova and Connors were surprised that they split after just a month.  In fact, folks close to both were surprised that they were going to try out a full time coaching pupil relationships to begin with. Neither is easy going, they are both Type-A personalities with a lot to say about everything and have very definitive ways of seeing how the sport should be played. The only tangible thing that Connors could have given to Sharapova was enough self-belief to really know she has enough game to beat Serena. He couldn’t help her with two areas of her game where she really needs help – her second serve and her volley.  She thought that he could teach her his wise ways, but she is not that trusting of a person, or that patient, so the impression he made in the first couple of weeks of their partnership could not have been a good one.

The last time they worked together, for to weeks back in 2007, she had a couple of buffers around her in her traveling coach Michael Joyce and her dad Yuri.  This time around it was one on one and I cannot imagine how she took to some of his very direct comments when – and this is very important to realize – he has rarely followed her career closely or women’s tennis at all so she probably didn’t think he was offering anything of real value in the context of her (not his) career.

So Sharapova pulled the rip cord quickly and now will head to the US Open without a full time coach, but likely with someone in tow, possibly one of her hitting partners, maybe even her dad or possibly one of her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov’s Swedish coaches. For more info, here is the news story I wrote on it this morning.

Federer and his racquet

Roger Federer is scheduled to play Rafael Nadal on Friday night in Cincinnati in a match where he will be a serious underdog in. Even getting a set in that match given how shaky he’s been over the past few months and how good Nadal has been in the past week and a half will give him a psychological boost. But his decision to test a prototype racket for more than a month and then bail on it in Cincy is not a good sign. Sure, his smaller head Wilson Pro Staff worked well for him for much of his career, but it hasn’t this year. However, if he was feeling uncomfortable with the prototype, he really had no choice if he was going to be comfortable in matches but to chuck it back into his racquet bag for the time being. But that does little more than put him back at square one. A win over Nadal would put him in US Open final four contention. A quick loss would mean he’s in danger of a first week exit.

The USTA has received a lot of flack (especially from some overseas reporters) about the lack of a roof on Arthur Ashe stadium. But on Thursday the organization announced plans for not only a roof on Ashe, but one of the new Armstrong stadium, and a new Grandstand court, and for an entire redesign of the site. It looks very impressive to me (see the Picture of the day on the home page) and eventually will put the USO ahead of the rest of the majors facility wise. Well done. Read here.

Shocker! Wimbledon champ Bartoli retires out of the blue


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Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli shockingly retired after a first round loss to Simona Halep in Cincinnati. The 28-year-old Frenchwoman had said just last week in Toronto that she was emotionally and physically exhausted after her maiden Grand Slam run, which is why she pulled out of tournaments at Stanford and Carlsbad.  She retired in her second match in Toronto last week and said that doctors told her she might  be suffering from  “an  excess of tiredness and exhaustion on my body  ..Everything that happened for me since a month, it’s not without any tiredness, and obviously it took me so much energy to win my first Grand Slam that at some point I will have a kind of low, and it’s normal. I’m human.  At the end of the day I can’t be winning after winning after winning without feeling at some point a kind of exhaustion.”

On Wednesday in Cincinnati, Bartoli said that she does not want to deal with the physical pain of competing further.

“My body just can’t do it anymore,’” she said. “ I’ve been already through a lot of injuries since the beginning of the year.  I’ve been on the tour for so long, and I really push through and leave it all during that Wimbledon. I really felt I gave all the energy I have left inside my body.  I made my dream a reality and it will stay forever with me, but now my body just can’t cope with everything.  I have pain everywhere after 45 minutes or an hour of play.  I’ve been doing this for so long.  And, yeah, it’s just body‑wise I just can’t do it anymore.”

Bartoli said that she has been thinking about whether she wanted to continue since Wimbledon

‘When you dreamed about something for so long and you have been on the tour for many, many, many years and you have been through up and downs and high and lows and already a lot of injuries since the beginning of the year, my body was really starting to fall apart, and I was able to keep it together, go through the pain with a lot of pain throughout this Wimbledon, and make it happen.  That was probably the last little bit of something that was left inside me.  It’s fine.  I mean, I have the right to do something else as well.  I’ve been playing for a long, long time, and it’s time for me now.  It is.”

Bartoli said that she informed her father Walter of her decision. He had coached her for the vast majority of her career up until the start of 2013.

He kind of felt it,” she said. “ It’s something that you live and you feel.  I called him after the match and said, ‘You know what, dad, I think it’s my last one.  And he said, ‘I kind of felt it.  I kind of knew it somehow.  I can see it in your eyes and see your body and see ‑‑ and know all the work you have done to make it happen.  I’m so proud of you.  I will support you in anything you’re doing.’  So of course it’s a hard decision to take, but I don’t think there should be a time or should be a match or should be something when you can say you have the right to retire and not the right to retire.  I mean, at the end of the day, I’m the only one who has been doing what I did for 22 years.

Bartoli added that she is excited to have the chance to eventually start a family.

“There is a lot of excitement as a woman.  There is a lot of excitement as a wife.  There is a lot of excitement as a mother.  There is a lot of excitement to come up.”




Serena crushes Cirstea and wins 3rd Rogers Cup



Serena has won eight titles this year.

FROM THE ROGERS CUP TORONTO –She keeps winning, that irrepressible Serena Williams, and outside of her two somewhat stunning losses to Sloane Stephens at the Australian Open and to  Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon, as well  as her  respectable loss to her biggest rival, Victoria Azarenka in the final of Doha, she has been pretty much untouchable the rest of the season.

In fact, since she lost to Angelique Kerber at 2012 Cincinnati (a full calendar year), she has compiled a 68-3 record and  won 11 titles. Poor Sorana Cirstea didn’t stand much of chance in the final as Williams started strong and raced to the finish in a 6-2 6-0 victory to take her third Rogers Cup crown. Serena served bigger, she returned more accurately, beat her off the backhand side and for the most part off the forehand side.

Yes, as Cirstea said. the match was a bit closer than the scores indicated, but it really was not that close overall and after Williams broke Cirstea to 5-2 in the first when the Romanian parked a backhand, the contest was all but done. Serena coolly controlled the action, didn’t stress and was keenly focused. She asked Cirstea to try and play at her level and there was no way that the Romanian would be able to on a day when Serena was feeling better after a bout with sickness on Saturday night in her win over Aga Radwanska. She knew that her foe does not have the weaponry to play with her yet.

Yes, Cirstea had a terrific week and has reach a career high No. 21 ranking, but she has only won seven games in six sets against Williams. The gap is clear and very wide.

“She knows when to raise her level,” the 23-year-old Cirstea said. “She knows when it’s enough to play and when she has to step it up.”

Serena goes out of her way to praise her opponents now – she is even over the top at times . The 31-year-old  is almost like a mother hen, guiding her little chicks, telling them that the future is bright and there are better days ahead. That is what she did with Cirstea when the Romanian broke down in tears during the presentation ceremony. That is also what she did with Radwanska on Saturday night.

Of course it’s much easier to do when she’s winning, but she is a whole lot more comfortable in her own skin than she was say five years ago, and one can tell that she is becoming somewhat attracted to taking on a leadership role. Yes, she still hates to lose and cannot be easy to deal with inside the locker room after a defeat, but all the players respect her on court and  a number of the players are growing to like her off court.

WTA attendance woes

The WTA could really use Serena to be a real leader, sort of like Roger Federer is with the men. The tour could use some help and fresh ideas because the reality is that after attending 21 straight days of matches, which means 42 different sessions (day and night) at women’s only events, it is crystal clear to me that attendance is problematic.

Of the 42 sessions at Stanford, Carlsbad and  Toronto, I would say that seven were successful, meaning nearly sold out or sold out. That’s seven out of 42 for the women’s world’s leading sport, which is a troubling number indeed. Yes, Maria Sharapova did not play those three weeks so pretending that she did and went deep at two tournaments, you could generously say that another six sessions would have successful (and really, four is a more realistic number). Everyone else of note played at least one of those events.

Perhaps fans are too into their high-def TVs and computers now and would  rather watch the WTA on a screen at home than attend in person, but anyone who has attended an tournament knows that watching the players up close and live is far more impressive and a much more well rounded experience than seeing them on a screen. At this point I would be seriously rethinking marketing strategies when it comes to ticket sales, such as two for one deal with a parent and kid, or something like that.

I’m not throwing this burden entirely on the WTA, because they have some smart and creative people on their staff. But the tournaments surely have to step up and rethink their strategies, too, because my up close and personal look when the stands were 20 % full did not yield a “Wow these marketing strategies are brilliant” all too often. Some kind of world conference on the future of pro tennis is long overdue.

I wonder who will step up and host one. Maybe Serena in her expansive Bel Air haunts?

Serena & Cirstea produce in the clutch

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Williams ran gamely with Aga.


FROM THE ROGERS CUP IN TORONTO – Agnieszka Radwanska  came somewhat close to finally defeating Serena Williams, but she was unable to do so, not because she didn’t believe she could do it, but because the American played more accurate and courageous tennis at the end of both sets of her 7-6 (3) 6-4 victory.

Williams was not at the very top of her game, so it was perhaps the Pole’s best chance ever to defeat her,  but she could not get across the finish line because Serena either came up with some mind -boggling winners at key moments, or Radwanska made the wrong play.

The world number four played more aggressively than usual, which sometimes played in her favor and sometimes did not. She is more comfortable in longer, well constructed rallies, but she felt the only way to get into those was to get Serena off balance. She did a fair amount of times, but not enough at critical junctures.

“It was really close and I had my chances but wasn’t really taking them,” Radwanska said. “It’s always turning against me, especially when you play a top player. I was really trying to play aggressive and going forward, but she’s really playing deep and strong balls. It’s really hard to do anything.”

The  match was very fun to watch, perhaps even more entertaining than their 2012 three-set Wimbledon final because there were more lengthy rallies as the slower court at Toronto allowed both players to dig out tough balls. But when push came to shove in the tiebreaker, it was all about Serena.

Radwanska couldn’t pull off a running backhand pass and went down 4-2 and then couldn’t handle a Williams slice serve out wide to 5-2. Serena then missed a lob on the run, but then won a wild point when she misplayed a lob and was forced to short-arm an overhead and eventually took a Radwanska ball out of the air and nailed a forehand swing volley winner. In vintage Serena fashion, she then cracked a big ace down the T to win the tiebreak 7-3.

Williams called for the trainer in between sets and took a pill for what she later said was a stomach problem. She has been irritable most of the week and screamed toward her box on a number of occasions, but said she wasn’t yelling at her coach.

Radwanska broke Williams to 2-1 in the second set but she could not maintain her edge, as she was broken back to 3-3 with a two hot shots to the corners and a ear-splitting overhead.

At 4-4, Williams fought off a break point with a  forehand crosscourt winner and then she held with a forehand down the line.

Serving at 4-5, Radwanska knew her back was against the wall  and couldn’t come up with a single winner while Williams ended the contest  with an gorgeous inside out backhand winner and a  forehand crosscourt side.

“She was moving very well and running a lot of good rallies that I think we didn’t have before<’ Radwanska noted.  “I think she was really playing great match today.

Williams added that she knew what to do come crunch time.

“I really tried to be more aggressive towards the end,” she said. “Those were obviously really key times of the match. I don’t think I played my best, and I always knew that, worst‑case scenario, I could do a little better.”

Serena  will face Sorana Cirstea, whose amazing  run continued when she shocked  Li Na 6-1, 7-6 (5). Once again 23-year-old Cirstea was the better player in the clutch. She has now beaten Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic, Petra Kvitova and Li in succession. It’s by far the best run of her career. Her first serve has become a weapon, she’s much steadier than she once was, she is more fit and constructs points more intelligently. And she does not lose her head.

One of her coaches. Darren Cahill, told her to take charge and that she did in, blowing out Li in the first set and coming back from 1-4 down in the second set to win the match. In fact she also came from 1-4 down in the tiebreak. She stayed strong while Li imploded.

“Even if I was down 4‑1, I still had the belief and still tried to focus on each point,” she said. “I think this kind of mentality is really helping me to take the pressure a bit off and to be able to be aggressive and take charge.  Because I know, for example, a player like Li Na, she’s not going to give it to me.  If I want to win this, I have to step it up.  This is one of the things that Darren said. She’s not going to give it to you.  She’s a top 5 player and that’s why she’s there, because she’s doing the right things. So if you want to win this, you have to earn it.  I had to win it on my terms.  I’m glad I finished in two.”